If you’ve been following the trade news over the last few months, you’ve probably seen one topic in particular flooding every outlet’s feed: Trichlor.
But beyond understanding that there's a shortage of this common sanitizing agent, you may not know a lot about the situation as a whole. So let’s discuss what it is, why it’s so hard to find, its common substitutes and (most importantly) what you can do to make sure that a Trichlor shortage doesn’t leave your business coming up short.
What is Trichlor?
First things first: let’s make sure we’re on the same page about Trichlor and how chlorination actually works. Yes, by now you’re probably an expert on chlorine’s practical effects, but understanding the nuances of this shortage requires a certain amount of inorganic chemistry.
Trichlor (or, more specifically, “Trichloro-s-triazinetrione”) is the disinfectant/bactericide most commonly found in circular 1-inch or 3-inch dissolvable tablets. The nickname “Trichlor” is derived from the three chlorine atoms in its chemical formula— the key distinguisher between Trichlor (C3Cl3N3O3) and its molecular cousin Dichlor (C3HCl2N3O3), which only has two.
In either case, the water-dissolved Trichlor
chlorine forms hydrochloric acid (HCl), which is when the real germ-killing magic happens. When the acid comes into contact with microorganisms, it oxidizes them by breaking through their cellular walls and disrupting their internal structure. Imagine popping a water-submerged water balloon with dozens of tiny pin pricks. Eventually, the contents of the balloon will leech out into the surrounding water, and there will be nothing left of its original structure or contents.
Why the shortage?
The current shortage was the result of a multi-system collapse that was caused by a perfect storm—an ongoing trade war, a global pandemic and, yes, an ACTUAL storm.
Here’s a quick recap of a few major events for Trichlor over the last few years: September 2018: Tariffs The U.S. Trade Representative announces an additional $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. The list of affected products includes sodium hydroxide, a critical component for Trichlor production. American distributors and manufacturers race to stock up on supplies at pre-tariff prices before the new regulations take effect.
March 2020: Lockdown
U.S. state governments announce the first mandatory stay-at-home orders, in hopes of slowing the spread
of the Covid-19 pandemic. Searching for a new source of entertainment at home, many families look to building or renovating backyard pools. By the end of the pool season, national news sources will report record consumer demand. The alreadydepleted supply of Trichlor is stretched even further to accommodate the spike.
August 2020: Hurricane
Hurricane Laura, the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana since 1856, makes landfall. The storm causes a fire to break out in the Westlake production facility of BioLab, the Trichlor manufacturer responsible for producing nearly 40 percent of the nation’s supply. The fire burns for three days and vaporizes an estimated 125 tons of chlorine pellets, forcing local residents within miles of the plant to stay indoors in order to avoid breathing the harmful fumes.
September 2020: Panic
Fearing the worst, buyers scramble to find out every remaining Trichlor source they can find, and distributors begin rationing sales to prevent hoarding. Reports circulate of Trichlor prices skyrocketing, with some outlets finding that the unit price has nearly doubled within a week. Market analysts worry about prices for the coming pool season, with one expert predicting that “2021 will be long remembered as the year the Industry survived without dry chemicals.”
January 2021: Entanglement
Despite almost a year of a soft truce in trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing, the Trump administration offers no exemptions to standing tariffs for the Trichlor market (despite numerous appeals from industry leaders).